middle places

here’s the thing about not having cancer anymore:  i’m not sick, but i’m not well yet, either.

beyond the continued treatments, surgeries, therapies and side effects to my body, the reality of how i am not going to be done with this, not going to just ‘put it behind me’ has settled over me like late-summer Texas heat- blistering and prickly, humidity choking all the oxygen from the air.  inescapable.

there’s this rush of gratefulness and light- a renewed energy that comes when the weight of diagnosis is lifted. and then… heaviness. dark, shadowy fears that cry out of your loss, your family’s hurt, your life forever scarred.

where does that come from?

there’s some question about how my long term medications interacted with those i took only briefly, jarring my brain as it struggles to keep up with all the new formulas-  possibly the fluctuation of hormones as i shift from one drug to another.

it is likely that this- the unexpected hard of post-cancer- is also the backlash of the last 9 months.  the feelings i pressed back and back and back because i had a job to do, now all crash forward at once- like water sloshing in an overfull bathtub. a warm wave of questions and fears and anger, spilling over the edges and spreading across the floor, messy and uncontainable.

or maybe i’m just tired. the body i am left with after gallons of chemicals and counter-chemicals and now cutting and rebuilding is tired. the mind i am left with after focusing on getting well, maintaining some energy for my family, and clutching small shreds of southern christian girl politeness towards those who ask ridiculous questions is tired.

yes, i think all of those are true.

i meant all the words i wrote during and just after… they are not false just because i am tired now. but i don’t really want to hide this part from you, friends.  this may be the more real part of being a ‘survivor.’ (side note: i don’t want to be called a survivor, warrior, or fighter. those are great titles from some, but i just don’t resonate with them. you can call me rachel.)

i have met lots of women who are going through cancer treatment, and i have seen this in some of them as well:  when there is a job to do, we do it- take the meds, deal with the sickness, maintain our lives and our families and our sanity, do the work to get well again. we are positive- strong- hopeful- focused. inspiring, even. but not much can prepare you for the post-cancer tidal wave. when you are alone with your thoughts again after months of chemo-brain and ‘just don’t puke in front of the kids,’ the darkness is a little surprising- a little overwhelming. the guilt of ‘shouldn’t i feel amazing and go save the world?’ instead of ‘i think i’ll just drop everything to sit alone in the sunshine for a while.’

some people ‘bounce back’ more quickly than others, which is wonderful. but some of us aren’t bouncy anymore. some of us reach the end of our resilience. maybe there’s only so many times our bodies and minds can be stretched to the limit before we stop returning to our original shape… not destroyed, but irreparably distorted.

you know what i WANT to do?  write cutting, sarcastic words that feel good going out, but horrible when they land. i want to slip in passive aggressive digs at all the well-meaning hurtful things people say when you have cancer (i’ve gotten some doozies).  but spewing every dark and crazy and desperate thought i’ve had, pouring out my emotions like sludgy, rancid water on you- my friends, family, and online acquaintances who have cared for me so well- that’s not good for anyone.

and that’s why i haven’t been writing (or just not publishing what i’m writing).  not because i don’t have anything to say, but because i’m still in the middle of it. there’s this human tendency to want to learn the lesson, see the growth, understand the process, wrap it all up in 1000 words or less. but in the middle, it’s dark and twisty and unmanageable.  even now, i’m tempted to put a big, fat, happy-clappy ‘yay Jesus’ bow on this… and i just don’t think that i should.  you don’t need that- my false front, my pretty picture. you can handle a little darkness from me, right?

so… i’m just going to leave this here and hope you don’t feel like you don’t have to say something helpful, be deeply insightful, or ‘fix me.’  i am broken, sure. but so are you… and it’s enough, even good sometimes, just to be broken together.


tea and champagne

i have always loved the end of the year… truth be told, i’m a closet contemplative.  generally a task-oriented, list-making organizer, i set aside that part of me and gather up all my dreamy, ‘what could be-ness’ and let it flow.  remembering, reviewing, re-grieving, re-celebrating… the regrets and ‘should haves’ pile up, but there is great satisfaction in the ‘we did it!’  the ‘look how far we’ve come’ is powerful in my heart, in my prayers.  naming my disappointments and successes gives voice to my thankfulness. i take time to know:  this year was a gift, in both the most painful and most radiant days.
i usually enjoy the anticipation of a new year, too:  admiring the fullness of the bottle we’re about to crack open and taste for the first time, wondering what will come bubbling out when the cork is popped.  like great champagne- crisp and sparkling over lips and tongue- the year before us is magically fresh and tastes like opportunity.  not resolutions, not calendar planning, not the to-do list.  those are a separate matter, and the organized ‘listy mclisterson’ in me can’t wait to put pen to paper and color-coordinate all the specifics.  i love details, but those aren’t the magic.  it’s the life that’s going to happen in the new days- there is so much possibility to be uncorked!  something about the turning over of the calendar makes all this so much more compelling, and i love being swept up in the grand, hopeful celebration of it all.
this year is different, of course.  finishing the year with breast cancer wasn’t exactly what i was planning when i turned the calendar from ’13 to ’14.  i would  desperately love to say 2015 will be chemo-free, but it will not be. i’m beginning the year with 2 more rounds in the hope of eliminating the cancer completely before surgery.  i want that- i want to give my body the best chance of getting past this disease. somehow spending the close of the year looking ahead to more poison just doesn’t lend itself to expansive dreaming and expectant preparations for the year to come.
it doesn’t feel like magic this year.  i don’t have the champagne tingle of anticipation as i see 2015 around the corner.  for the first time that i can remember, i would like to fast forward to next winter.  i want to be on the other side, where i can (hopefully) look back on cancer and chemotherapy and surgery and radiation and reconstruction with tired, thankful memories. i want it behind me. onward, upward to the purposes i’m meant to live out- the life that will happen after cancer. 
and there’s the lie, did you catch it?  in my ‘all or nothing’ mentality, i crossed my God-given purposes off the list for the next year and replaced them with cancer. i convinced myself that i was out of commission for gathering, equipping and unleashing myself and others– that God wasn’t going to use me this year.  as if i’ve fallen into a void of uselessness because what i thought i was doing has been derailed.  as if God didn’t know this was part of my life story- ‘oh, that’s too bad… i had such hopes for rachel’s life.’  that’s not His voice, not His way.
i wanted to be closer to the end of breast cancer so i could keep on with the plans already in progress.  and they were His plans- i still believe that.  there is nothing wrong with where i was heading or the dreams i was pursuing… but now it’s on to something different. as Jennie Allen said as she accepted His purpose for If:Gathering, “it’s going to be different… it won’t be a tweaked version of old dreams. these are new and scary and uncomfortable dreams, but they are from God. He builds things like this… people don’t.”  
I have a lot of cancer days ahead.  more treatment days. sick days. many surgery days.  healing days.  that’s a lot of todays that i could assume i have no purpose- no part in the largeness of God’s great story of drawing people to Him.  a lot of todays that i could take for granted as meaningless- ‘today i don’t matter because i’m sick’- looking forward to someday, when my life matters again.  
but God whispers:
 {today matters as much as someday}

so that’s where i begin 2015.  it doesn’t feel like the champagne-sparkling hope of years past.  not the same sweet, nose-tickling, ‘raise your glass’ anticipation. from here, 2015 appears to be a season of watchfulness. listening. quiet,  abiding, ‘warm tea by the fireplace’ comfort in knowing He hasn’t counted me out of His story.  my todays still have meaning. so i will turn the calendar and simply be awake and present for an as yet unrevealed purpose. 
may this calendar-turn bring you both 
hope and comfort… 
sparkling champagne wishes and warm tea dreams
to all of you, my friends!